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Shooting Victim Can Sue L.A. Unified, Court Rules

Appellate decision says district may be liable in off-campus attack on a Banning High student.

August 20, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

A Banning High School student who was shot off campus five years ago can sue Los Angeles Unified officials for negligent supervision, according to an appellate court decision this week.

The opinion, issued by the 2nd District Court of Appeal, may allow school districts to be held responsible for violent attacks involving students that occur off campus.

A lower court had ruled that neither the Los Angeles Unified School District nor former Banning Principal Charles Taylor Didinger could be held legally accountable for an unforeseeable shooting. The appellate court disagreed.

Anthony Durant, then a 17-year-old junior, was shot in the neck in May 1998 on a sidewalk outside of the Wilmington campus before school began. At the time, police said they believed the attack was gang-related and racially motivated. Durant later sued the school district and the principal.

Durant's attorney, Marc Karlin, alleged that his client, an African American, had received threats from a group of Samoan students at school. Karlin said Durant's parents had told district officials about the threats, and a dean had recommended his transfer to another school. According to court documents filed by the plaintiff, the district ignored that recommendation, and administrators promised the Durants that they would take care of the problem.

According to the lawsuit, the shooting occurred after a fellow student gave Durant a "look" and the two walked outside the campus to an area where students sometimes fight.

They began arguing, and the other student, Mark Lilomaiava, shot Durant in the neck. Lilomaiava pleaded guilty to assault with a firearm and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Durant's suit alleged that negligent supervision had led to the shooting. "I believe that they have a duty to protect students who have compulsory attendance," Karlin said.

The court of appeal said the lower court had erred.

"A school's duty to supervise students begins before students sit down at their desks when the school bell rings" and "may reach beyond the schoolyard to areas near the school -- a proposition seemingly underpinning the district's disciplining of students who fight outside the school."

Durant's attorney said the court did not "draw a bright line between things directly adjacent to the school and things that happen on school grounds."

"That is the thrust of the decision," he said, "that what happened was within the realm and responsibility of the supervision of the school district."

Attorney J. Peter Fiske, who represents L.A. Unified in the case, said the district had not decided whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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